First Corinthians 3:18-4:5
Custodians Of God's Mysteries*
Don't Deceive Yourself.
1. Being made a fool of or being treated like we're fools is sometimes harder to put up with than the sorrow or pain we might suffer with. Of course, I don't mean it in the sense that no one will humble himself and say "I've been truly foolish." Everybody around listening to him will nod in agreement on the spot, but really even though he is doing that everyone is more than likely having irritated feelings on the inside [including the one apologizing]. None of us think we are really foolish. In our hearts we think we are smart. We want to think of ourselves in that way and we want others to acknowledge it too.
2. The human heart is like that even when it comes to God. Even when it comes to God, people think they know something. Often times we feel that what God does is unjust. There are times when the way God is and the things he does as recorded in scripture seem very difficult to accept. Some say, upon reading the Bible, "This kind of God is different from the God that I am used to thinking about." Put another way, they mean that the God that they see in their minds seems very much more divine. There are even some who think they're so smart that they can stipulate how God is supposed to act.
3. If I could go further with this, even in matters pertaining to salvation, some make claims to their intelligence. They seek for salvation, but they want to be saved as they see fit. They want a messiah. But, the messiah is hardly the savior they imagine. This is not just something we can say about modern people either. Even Jesus' disciples were like that. The Lord once asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Whereupon Peter answer him, "You are the messiah." Then Jesus told them that he was going to have to suffer much and be rejected and killed by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and after three days he would be raised from the dead. Then what did Peter do? The scriptures say, "He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him," (Mark 8:32).
4. Among the disciples it was only Peter who had rebuked Jesus. But, we can't laugh at Peter. The same thing happens even now. Modern Peters say, "Jesus, nobody will believe it if we speak of the cross or the resurrection. The message that the church gives must be agreeable, easy to understand, inspirational, and useful for today. If it isn't, modern people won't go for it." Christ hanging on a cross for our sins, a person being baptized and dying with Christ and then being resurrected with him, a person partaking in the blood and body of Christ through the Lord's Supper and living by partaking in Christ's life sounds really foolhardy to those who want to be saved in the way they deem [right].
5. But, Paul is saying in today's passage of scripture this, "No one should deceive himself," (3:18). In other words, Paul is saying that supposing yourself to be wise is the same as self-deception. It amounts to saying that all of us are not really wise. It's a strong message. But, if that's what [the Bible] says, then that's the way it is, isn't it? How do we then go about looking inside ourselves correctly without falling into self-deception? Though people have tried to talk so big and knowingly, the real world in which people live does not have one answer on hand for the root problems in life. It doesn't have the answer for death. Nor does it have answers for life. It doesn't have any answers ready for the sin that controls people. There's nothing we can do to fend for ourselves. We can't solve the smallest of problems in life. We don't have any answers for the purpose and meaning in life, so subject to sin and death as it is. Whenever we shut our eyes to our unsavedness and think as if we can tell the truth better than God can, this is truly how we are deceiving ourselves, it is vain imaginations, it is but conceit.
6. Therefore, Paul says, "If any of you think you are wise in this world, become a fool in order to be truly wise," (verse eighteen). The Bible says we need to be fools. That doesn't mean that we abandon normal thinking, but that we examine ourselves honestly with common sense and admit that we are totally foolish. We are to cast off the wisdom that we have clung to and the pride based on that wisdom and humble ourselves before God. Then, we are to entrust ourselves over to the wisdom of God, God's word of salvation, and the truth of the gospel. It was already given to us in chapter one and verse twenty-one like this, "The world has never been able to know God as its wisdom. It doesn't fit in with God's wisdom. Thus, God decided to save those who believe through the foolish method of preaching."
No One Should Boast Of Humankind
7. Well, we shouldn't forget that what is written here first had to do with the in-house fighting between factions that emerged in the church at Corinth. Paul didn't forget it either and continues with, "Therefore, no one should boast over people," (3:21). He said this because some were claiming, "I follow Paul," "I follow Apollo," or "I follow Cephas," (1:12).
8. Factions and fighting emerge wherever people brag about people. When we take pride in one, we start to look down on the others and get to condemning. Those who say, "I am following Paul," never followed Apollo or Cephas. They got to looking down on them and got into condemning them. When we elevate the one, we degrade the other.
9. We must acknowledge that the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God and we must bow before Him. Also, we must remember that we can't be saved except by the crucified Christ alone, therefore, "Christ [is] the power of God, and the wisdom of God," (1:24). And we are not only to think this in relation to ourselves but we must see it's the same for any other person. Even though there might be great apostles like Paul and speakers like Apollo, it's [all] the same. Both of them are no more than saved sinners.
10. We're supposed to look at not Paul or Apollo themselves but on the situation God set them in. He continues in this manner, "Since this is how it is, people should see us as servants of Christ, custodians entrusted with the hidden plan of God. In that case it is required in custodians to be loyal," (4:1). Paul says they are no more than men serving Christ and they are just men managing the truth of the gospel entrusted to them. A custodian or manager is different from the owner. He is only given responsibility. In essence, it is only the work of managing that he has to do.
11. That which has been spoken here immediately is the task of Paul and Apollo as clergy. Thus, from the start it is first a word directed to me as a pastor. I think I had better take this message written here seriously. But, it is not only the clergy who are the ones who have been entrusted with the hidden plan of God, that is, the mystery of the gospel, but the entire church as well is involved in it. We must not always think that it is only the pastor's job. All of us, in our different ways, are responsible for the truth of the gospel. And each of us in our different ways are given a task by God. It is not just in our service in the church so much, but really it is related to our entire christian experience each day.
12. So then, we must learn not to direct our attention on any one person but on the fact that God turns things over to different people. The bottom line for each one of us is that we only have a task given to us by God. If we can discern this in regard to both ourselves and others, then elevating one person and putting down the other would disappear. And being jealous of others and always putting yourself down would disappear. Because the tasks that God assigns to each different person are not something that is supposed to be compared with the tasks that are turned over to others as each situation is unique for each person.
13. Thus, Paul has no interest in receiving any kind of assessment of himself from others. He not only doesn't care about others taking pride in him and boasting, but doesn't care for being judged by people either. Some were claiming, "I follow Apollo," but Paul could care less that they might make a fool of him some way or judge him, because the main thing is not how he is seen by people, but whether he is being loyal to what God has entrusted him with. He said, "For me, it is not much of an issue when I am judged by you or tried by human courts. I myself don't even judge myself. I have a clear conscience. But that is not why I am justified. The one who judges me is the Lord," (4:3-4). Yes, that's why, the main thing is not how people think, but how the Lord sees us.
14. However, that doesn't mean we are terrified of the Lord's judgment and serve him nervously. Paul goes on to say, "Thus, until the Lord comes, don't judge anything ahead of time. The Lord will bring to light the secrets hidden in the darkness and will make plain the plans of people's hearts. At that time ...," (verse five). When we hear this passage, we will probably want to continue with it like this, "At that time, each one will be punished by God." But, Paul doesn't say that. "At that time, each one will receive praise from God." He is not thinking of being judged but of being rewarded.
15. In order for us to truly be loyal servants to the Lord, the "hidden things [of God]" will have to be much much more important to us than being seen and valued by humans. Even if we are misunderstood by everyone, the intentions of what we've done, the motives of our heart matter most. And the Lord understands all of this. We [could] forget this and not care about the hidden reality. If we do, then, we won't be loyal either. Ultimately, what will have meaning before the Lord will be whether we have lived as loyal custodians and not whether we have received the praise of men for being wise among them.
*In the New Testament a mystery or a secret is something that cannot be known by human power; it must be revealed by God, it is a revelation.